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My son is working through his Junior year in high school, and one day I noticed that he seemed a little glum. It wasn’t the “I didn’t win my last round of video games” or “I got a lousy grade on my Chem test” or even the “I just found out about a party all the guys are going to and I wasn’t invited” type. It was one of those moods that only a mom can detect. We went out do run some errands together, and it was while driving around in the car that he revealed the source of his gloom: he was struggling with his future…the battle between what he wanted to do (which he knew) and what he “should” do (which he didn’t) following his next, and last, year in high school.
As I write this, we are in the midst of winter, and yet graduation time will roll around before you know it - whether it’s this year, the next, or beyond. Even if you’re homeschooling little ones, I can attest to the saying “time flies.” So it’s never too early to start discussing this question with your teen:
"What are your plans after high school?"
Now I’m not necessarily talking about questions like “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or even “What college will you be going to?” or even “What will your major be?”
I’m talking about “ARE you going to college next year?”
I’m talking about a gap year.
The concept has been around for awhile and is growing steam and credibility.
I have to admit that when I first heard about it, I totally dismissed it. I was raised in a family where going to college was a given, no questions asked. And if you even thought about skipping a year before you planned on heading off, you were doomed to be a failure in life, with the stigma of being “just” a high-school graduate.
But that was in the stone ages. 😉 Times have certainly changed since then!
Today, there are many career-prep opportunities for our children even while they’re in high school. Many young people develop an entrepreneurial spirit in this environment. In addition, with all the emphasis on tech, learning a hands-on skill such as welding or other building trade may very well prove lucrative in the future, as these occupations are suffering a severe decline in popularity.
So a gap year – if done correctly – can truly be a time when your teen can further explore their options creatively.
How do you do a gap year "correctly"?
Good question! There are 3 things you must think about before you engage in this concept with your teen. Ask yourself, and discuss these with your child:
- What are his or her interests? Do they have hobbies or extra-curricular activities that keep them intensely engaged? (I’m not talking about video games here. While there are possible applications in “the real world” for that skill, such as it is, many, many more people dream about than actually find gainful employment.)
- What type of personality does your teen have? Gap years are best utilized by driven, motivated self-starters. Teachability and an eager, open mind are essential character traits for someone crafting a successful gap year. If your teen is having trouble finishing up projects in school, shows little effort in discovering solutions to problems or challenges he or she already faces, and displays little or no motivation to experiment or explore on their own, this may not be an option you’d want to encourage them to pursue.
- What would their dream “gap year” look like? Let them brainstorm here, and take note of what they’re thinking. Would they like to travel? Where and why and how would they pay for it? Would they like to invent or build something? What and why? What kind of research have they done already in that field? Would they like to work? Where and with whom, doing what? Are they open to being an apprentice to someone, and maintaining accountability with an adult mentor (you or someone else)?
The ONE Vital Thing to Having a Successful Gap Year
You know the saying ” Those who fail to plan, plan to fail”, and it applies to this experience like no other. Planning out the year to the best degree possible, including outlining a Plan B, goes far to ensure a successful gap year.
Some things you’d plan for are:
- Goals – Is this gap year being undertaken with an intent to pursue college afterward? Is the intent to discover what your child wants to do in life? Is the desire to find gainful employment with the hope/intent of further study down the road? No judgment here: but make every effort to manage expectations and goals.
- Activities - Will they be employed? Working on their own? Studying or learning a skill?
- People involved - Include businesses, mentors, accountability partners
- Finances – What costs are involved? Who will pay for them?
- Plan B – What happens if things don’t quite go as expected? What’s the backup plan?
- Record keeping – How will you document the experience? Will your student keep a journal? Will you request that any employers or craftsmen with whom they worked write up a recommendation or summary of the experience? How will you organize all this?
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The discussion of a gap year came up that day with our son. He had some vague ideas about things that interested him and what he could do, we bantered about some other possibilities, and at some point, he moved on to other topics.
These days, my husband and I are more open to the possibility of our kids undertaking a gap year; I certainly am convinced that college isn’t the route for everyone. Your student will learn many other important life lessons outside the classroom, and different learning styles and career choices often call for other approaches to higher education and preparation for a career.
A gap year can be a wonderfully educational exploration of the world at large, and a time of discovery of new and untapped interests, talents and skills. In many cases, it may be the launching pad to a lifetime of creative success.
A gap year may be the ticket to your child’s future…but as a gateway to their future, don’t skimp on the planning and effort required to make it a successful experience, no matter what standard you’re using!